Digital access, literacy, citizenship, and safety are the four key areas of focus in the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to bring broadband access to all children.
Broadband internet access should be available to 100 percent of American children, but parents should be aware of the possible challenges they will face by the increased amount of time their children might spend online, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a March 12 speech.
Genachowski announced the creation of the FCC’s “Children’s Agenda for Digital Opportunity,” which he said will build on the four pillars of digital access, digital literacy, digital citizenship, and digital safety. The Children’s Agenda is part of the National Broadband Plan to be released this week.
Genachowski explained that the FCC followed a series of core principles when developing initiatives around kids, media, and technology.
“Children are our most precious national resource. We must do everything we can to educate and prepare them to thrive in the 21st century, and keep them safe,” he said. “Empowering parents is an essential strategy in this area.”
He added that the government has an appropriate role to play, though it might be a limited one, while honoring the First Amendment. And, the FCC needs to ensure that all children have access to broadband.
“Unfortunately, more than 13 million school-age children don’t have broadband at home, and many have only limited access to broadband connections at school. That means 25 percent of U.S. children—one out every four kids—are missing out on the opportunities of broadband,” he said. “We need to ensure that all of our nation’s children have access to broadband. Anything less than 100 percent is not good enough.”
To achieve these goals, the National Broadband Plan, set to be unveiled March 17, will propose steps to ensure that every child in America benefits from digital opportunities.
To address access, the plan will recommend modernizing the Universal Service Fund so that it supports broadband instead of regular telephone service. The plan also proposes to update the e-Rate program for schools and libraries to permanently enable schools to use e-Rate funding to give community members computer access during off-school hours. Last month, the FCC announced that it would change the e-Rate’s rules to allow this accommodation for the 2010-11 program year.
To ensure that children are digitally literate, Genachowski said they not only need to know basic skills such as getting online and using software, but also should know how to think analytically, critically, and creatively, so they can find relevant information, assess the accuracy and reliability of that information, distinguish fact from opinion, and create and share new content.
“Both digital and media literacy skills are particularly critical given, as we’ve heard, the average American child today spends more time with digital or analog media than they spend in school—or even sleeping,” he said. “Digital literacy isn’t just a good idea—it’s increasingly a job requirement and a citizenship requirement.”
The National Broadband Plan will recommend the establishment of the National Digital Literacy Program to ensure that children are digitally literate. The program will consist of three parts: (1) an Online Digital Literacy Portal will allow any child, parent, or teacher with a broadband connection to take courses on digital literacy; (2) a Digital Literacy Corps will mobilize thousands of technically-trained youths and adults to train non-adopters, including families who are hard to reach because of cultural and language barriers; and (3) the FCC will push for libraries and other community centers to have more broadband capacity so they can continue to help families become digitally literate.
The Children’s Agenda for Digital Opportunity also will work to teach children how to become responsible members of the larger digital community. Genachowski noted that digital communities allow students to remain anonymous or change their identity, allowing them to act without regard to consequences.
“We’re going to promote digital citizenship by working together across government, industry, and the nonprofit sector to start a national dialog, identify best practices, develop model norms, and engage in outreach and education to online communities,” Genachowski said of the broadband plan.
Safety is another critical issue the FCC will address with the children’s agenda, especially because it’s often the first thing parents think about when they think about their children being online.
“New technologies can expose our children to new dangers, and can potentially outpace the ability of parents to guide their children,” Genachowski said. “If you’re a parent who thinks change is scary, the digital revolution is like The Shining—in 3D.”
The availability of digital media exposes students to potential dangers such as online harassment, harmful web sites, distracted driving, and inappropriate advertising. These are all things Genachowski said will be addressed by marshaling resources across the federal government to focus on online safety.
“The National Broadband Plan proposes creating an interagency working group on child online safety. This group will work with nonprofit and industry partners to find solutions to the biggest risks that children face online,” he said.
Genachowski listed things parents can do to help ensure students are able to take advantage of digital media while remaining safe online.
Parents can become informed by seeking out online resources; communicate a positive message about technology to their children; set rules for their children on using digital technology and media; engage with their children so using technology becomes a shared experience; teach children that personal responsibility and offline values don’t end when they go online; and reinforce basic social norms that encourage responsible use of digital technology and responsible online behavior.
Genachowski said he plans to hold a Children’s Summit at the end of the year to evaluate the progress that has been made toward the goals of the Children’s Agenda and determine where a more aggressive response is needed.
Note to readers:
Don’t forget to visit the Measuring 21st-century skills resource center. Graduates who enter the workplace with a solid grasp of 21st-century skills bring value to both the workplace and global marketplace. Go to:
Measuring 21st-century skills